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Our visit to

The Ancient City of Rochester

castle grounds with canon

Friday 28th June 2019

On a beautiful sunny if windy day in late June we went on our trip to Rochester.  After we arrived we had time for the essential coffee break before starting off on our exploration of the town.

We were divided into two groups for our guided walks, shepherded by two guides dressed in Dickensian costume.  Our first stop was by the Cathedral precincts next to a one hundred and fifty year old Catalpa tree, an American Indian bean tree, which is believed to be the oldest of its kind in England.

guides in Dickensian costume and Rochester Cathedral

Our guide drew our attention to one of the headstones in the graveyard.  He explained how the names on the headstone are related to Dickens especially Fanny which was the name of one of his sisters; she was allowed to continue her studies at the Royal Academy of Music despite the family falling on hard times.  Initially Dickens resented this situation but history has proved that he was the more successful of the siblings.

We moved on to the Castle grounds, overshadowed by the twelfth century castle keep.  Here we had a clear view over the River Medway looking towards the Hoo peninsula where Dickens walked with his father when he was a boy and where he later established his home.  We did not have time to go into the castle but the guide gave us a brief history of the various battles and sieges it had endured over the centuries.

castle keep and group walking down a narrow lane
group exploring the Vines public park

We strolled through some streets and buildings belonging to the Cathedral before entering The Vines.  This is where the monks of the Priory of St Andrew were granted land to establish a vineyard, today it is a pleasant parkland area with avenues of plane trees.  We halted our walk opposite Restoration House where our guide read to us an extract from Great Expectations because it is believed this is the building Dickens used to represent the home of Miss Havisham, although unlike us Dickens was not able to enter the building!

whole group in front of Restoration House

Restoration House derives it name from the visit to Rochester by King Charles II on 28/29th May in 1660 when travelling from Dover to London for his restoration.

front of Restoration House

Restoration House is built in the shape of an E.  Over the years the wings of the house were linked together to form this shape.  There is a definite Dutch influence on the house gables, the tiles in the entrance hall and some of the ceramics on display.

We were fortunate to be given an introduction by Robert, one of the current owners of the house.  Together with David his partner they are busy trying to return the house to its former glory.  They have completed a lot of the work stripping back the floorboards, walls and woodwork to reveal the original structure of the house.  In addition to the amazing building there is a fantastic collection of furniture, pictures and treasures.  Robert gave us an enthusiastic account of the work they had achieved and detailed information on many of artefacts in the house.  We were even allowed into his bedroom.

Next we enjoyed lunch (the profits going to a local hospice) before investigating the garden's varied layouts.  They were absolutely stunning with a delightful array of fountains.

taking our lunch
taking our lunch 2
rear garden with box hedges
overview of rear garden

We still had time for a quick visit to the Cathedral, the Huguenot Museum and the Tourist Centre before climbing onto the coach for our journey home.

“Things that are changed or gone will come back as they used to be.  Thank God.”  Nicholas Nickleby  1839

Text: Heather Head
Photos: John Wright

Related Link

Restoration House